78th seat up for grabs today

BEDFORD – With temperatures set to reach record lows, voters in three counties will brave biting Arctic winds today as they choose a candidate to represent the 78th state House district for the next 10 months.

Low turnout is widely expected for the special election, set to fill the late state Rep. Dick Hess’ seat through Nov. 30. With a single race on the ballot, voters in parts of Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties will choose between Republican Jesse Topper and Democrat Barbara Barron.

Special elections often draw relatively small turnout.

Topper, a Bedford minister and Republican Party officer, has pressed the election’s significance in campaign literature and advertisements.

“I know it’s a tough time of year, I know it’s the middle of winter … but it’s an important election. I hope people turn out,” he said.

“The weather’s going to kind of make or break us here,” Barron said. “We have people planning on going to the polls, if they don’t freeze to death.”

With today’s low forecast at 4 degrees below zero and its high at 5 degrees, the Bedford area could break historic climate records. The prior low regional record was minus 1 degree, measured in 1987 at the Altoona-Blair County Airport, according to meteorology website Weather Underground.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill advisory through noon today over much of the state, including the three counties set to vote.

In an early January interview, Barron of Everett said the expected low turnout could help even her chances in a Republican-leaning region. But Topper has spared no expense in pressing his name and agenda this month, with radio spots, newspaper ads and mass mailings augmenting a door-to-door campaign.

“We are absolutely working hard to make sure people get out to the polls. We’re doing everything we know how to do,” he said.

Campaign finance reports filed Jan. 13 show Topper had raised $14,000, including $2,000 from a political action committee run by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, and additional help from business figures and prominent Bedford County Republicans. Topper said he’s spent much of that money on late campaigning.

Barron said she’s raised comparitively little – about $1,000 – but has spent the last several days making phone calls and knocking on doors.

Hess, a 26-year state House veteran, died in September from surgical complications.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.